Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Interdisciplinary Graduate Program


Molecular Medicine

First Thesis Advisor

Mario Stevenson, Ph.D.


HIV-1, HIV Antigens, gag Gene Products, Human Immunodeficiency Virus, Virus Replication


Since the first cases were reported over thirty years ago, great strides have been made to control disease progression in people living with HIV/AIDS. However, current estimates report that there are about 34 million individuals infected with HIV worldwide. Critical in the ongoing fight against this pandemic is the continuing development of highly active anti-retroviral therapies, ideally those with novel mechanisms of action. Currently, there are no medications approved for use that exploit the HIV-1 MA protein, despite its central role in multiple stages of the virus life cycle.

This thesis sought to examine whether a highly conserved glutamate residue at position 99 in the understudied C-terminal helix of MA is required for HIV-1 replication. I characterized a panel of mutant viruses that contain different amino acid substitutions at this position using viral infectivity studies, virus-cell fusion assays, and immunoblotting. In doing so, I found that substitution of this glutamate with either a valine (E99V) or lysine (E99K) residue disrupted Env incorporation into nascent HIV particles, and abrogated their ability to fuse with target-cell membranes. In determining that the strain of HIV could affect the magnitude of E99V-associated defects, I identified a compensatory substitution at MA residue 84 that rescued both E99V- and E99K-associated impairments.

I further characterized the MA E99V and E99K mutations by truncating HIV Env and pseudotyping with heterologous envelope proteins in an attempt to overcome the Env incorporation defect. Unexpectedly, I found that facilitating fusion at the plasma membrane was not sufficient to reverse the severe impairments in virus infectivity. Using quantitative PCR, I determined that an early post-entry step is disrupted in these particles that contain the E99V or E99K MA substitutions. However, allowing entry of mutant virus particles into cells through an endosomal route conferred a partial rescue in infectivity. As the characterization of this post-entry defect was limited by established virological methods, I designed a novel technique to analyze post-fusion events in retroviral infection. Thus, I present preliminary data regarding the development of a novel PCR-based assay that monitors trafficking of the viral reverse transcription complex (RTC) in an infected cell.

The data presented in this thesis indicate that a single residue in MA, E99, has a previously unsuspected and key role in multiple facets of HIV-1 MA function. The pleiotropic defects that arise from specific substitutions of this amino acid implicate a hydrophobic pocket in MA in Env incorporation and an early post-entry function of the protein. These findings suggest that this understudied region of MA could be an important target in the development of a novel antiretroviral therapy.



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